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5 Days in Chicago...We Need Advice

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Hi Everybody,

My girlfriend and I have just booked a 5 day trip to Chicago, but do not know where to begin, in terms of food options. We will be staying in the magnificent mile area, however we will likely get subway passes, are up for a lot of walking (what better way to burn off the indulgent eating), and want to explore different neighberhoods (not just the uber-touristy ones). Also, we are on a budget.; although we are up for a bit of fine dining, the rest will have to be more budget-friendly.

Of course we want to get an authentic deep dish pizza - we have heard of lou M's, is this the best option? What are some other quintisential chicago foods, and what are the best places to get these. Also, we want to explore the city...what are some of the best foodie neighberhoods. As a last point, what MUST we do in Chicago (ie museums, areas, sights, etc). We greatly appreciate your help!

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  1. There are previous discussions that will provide good places to start, to help you get the "lay of the land".

    >> What are some other quintisential chicago foods, and what are the best places to get these.

    This discussion tells what foods and places are unique or specialties in Chicago, foods that Chicago is particularly good at:

    first time Chicago - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693477

    >> we are on a budget.; although we are up for a bit of fine dining, the rest will have to be more budget-friendly.

    This discussion has an overview listing some of our best in various food categories, as well as advice for getting the best value for your dining dollar:

    Where are the best Chicago dinner *values* - the hidden gems? - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697829

    >> Of course we want to get an authentic deep dish pizza - we have heard of lou M's, is this the best option?

    The original Uno and Due in River North and the various locations of Lou Malnati's and Pizano's are all very good. The latter two were founded by sons of one of the main characters in the early decades of Uno and Due, and the sons worked there for many years with their father before striking out on their own. I would go to any of these. Pizano's on State is the closest if you're along the north half of the Mag Mile, Uno and Due if you're along the south half. Wherever you go, follow their advice on how big a pizza to order - a large deep-dish really can fill 3-4 people - and consider phoning ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

    >> Also, we want to explore the city...what are some of the best foodie neighberhoods.

    You'll find answers to that question in this discussion:

    Best Chicago Foodie 'Hood - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/437740

    >> As a last point, what MUST we do in Chicago (ie museums, areas, sights, etc).

    The Chowhound Team frowns on extended discussions that are not related to food. In brief, Chicago has so many things - museums of all kinds, a vibrant downtown skyline with architectural tours (by foot, bus, and boat), and attractions of all kinds, everything from zoos to theaters and jazz and blues clubs - you name it, we've got it. A good place to start is the website of the official Chicago Tourism Bureau at www.choosechicago.com

    As you read through those discussions and other sources, I'm sure you will have more specific questions. Please ask, and we'll try to help!

    1. I prefer Lou M.'s for deep dish. Uno and Duo are fine examples. Avoid Giordano's.

      4 Replies
      1. re: HoosierFoodie

        I really love Giordano's; in fact, it's my favorite of all the Chicago deep dish pizzas. However, there's a reason I don't recommend it to first-time visitors. Giordano's features a double-crust "stuffed" pizza, rather than the single-crust deep-dish served at Uno/Due, Malnati's, and Pizano's. It's a different style of pizza (and there are other places in Chicago that also serve stuffed pizza, including Nancy's, Bacino's, Carmen's, and Edwardo's). So we have two different types of thick-crust pizza, with good examples found pretty much only in Chicago, and I love both types (of course, as a matter of personal taste). Stuffed pizza started in the 1970s, whereas Uno started deep-dish in 1943. First-time visitors would do well to start with the longer-standing "traditional" deep-dish of Uno/Due, Malnati's, or Pizano's. On a second visit, come back and try the delicious stuffed pizza at Giordano's.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          I appreciate the history lesson but I have been to Giordano's enough to know that it isn't as good, in my view, as the others. If Giordano's isn't for the "first time visitor" it sure is loaded with tourists.

          The last time we were there we were staying at a near-by condo. We called and they told us 30 min. So, we went in 30 min. and they told us that it would be another 30 min. Then when we went the pizza was cold. So, not only was the pizza bad so was the service. And this wasn't our first issue as we have stayed near-by on many, many occasions.

          1. re: HoosierFoodie

            >> I have been to Giordano's enough to know that it isn't as good, in my view, as the others.

            That's a matter of personal opinion. I think their pizza is fantastic, the best I've ever had in my entire life, anywhere.

            >> If Giordano's isn't for the "first time visitor" it sure is loaded with tourists.

            That depends on which location you go to. If you go to the Rush Street location, in the middle of the area with all the hotels for visitors from out of town, yes, Giordano's is going to have lots of tourists. So will Uno and Due and Pizano's and Lou Malnati's in their River North locations. For most people staying in that area, it makes a lot more sense to walk a few minutes to their locations nearby than to take a long trip by public transportation to go to locations where the crowd is primarily locals. But if you feel that strongly about it, you can certainly go to their locations in outlying neighborhoods and suburbs where most of the crowd is locals. (Just don't do this with Uno and Due, whose franchised locations outside of River North don't use the same recipes.)

            In dozens of visits, I have never had a problem with the pizza at Giordano's. It is always served hot and it is always ready within five minutes of when I have been told it will be ready. I'm sorry you had a bad experience, but it's not consistent with all of my many visits to numerous locations of theirs.

        2. re: HoosierFoodie

          Agree with HF. I would also say avoid Ginos.

          And I agree with nxstasy about deep dish being the entry and stuff pizza being a more difficult one to appreciate.

        3. I'm staying out of the Chicago pizza debate but check to see if your trip is during Restaurant Week in late February - now that would be the perfect luck.

          I'd definitely head over to Violet Hour and Big Star ... a great way to have a very fun evening with a real Chicago feel in the Wicker Park neighborhood ... lots of other good food options around there and fun little quirky shops.

          I'd also check the dates against the Green City Market calendar - winter time is not the best but still a number of our best local farmers are there, along with crepes and other munchies.

          FIne dining on a budget - look to Sable (some of the best food in the city) or maybe the prix fixe at Dale Levitiski's Sprout ($60 for three course plus two intermezzos per person ... very good food)

          Also budget friendly and a fave - Bayless' Xoco for any meal from breakfast on ... I actually sorta prefer it to his wonderful serious restaurants.

          Must do's - there's so much. In good weather, one of the River tours which sounds "touristy" but is just a treat when its warm and sunny. Skip Navy Pier (too touristy crowded hohum in my book) and pick neighborhoods (like WIcker Park or my own Old Town - with a stop at the amazing Spice House!) for a sense of why we live here. The Art Institute is amazing and has the wonderful Terzo Piano restaurant, the Museum of Contemporary Art has a very nice Wolfgang Puck lunch place and often some really fascinating evening performances. If you have student IDs, see if you can get tickets to the Lyric Opera (or even if not!) and have a light dinner in the Bistro before the performance - it's such a wonderful over the top gilded dream - and the performances are usually stunning. Also check for good theater ... there's so much of it, often better than available in say NY ... some of the companies have deals with restaurants as well so look for that.

          -----
          The Violet Hour
          1520 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622

          Green City Market
          1750 N Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614

          Violet Hour
          1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

          Terzo Piano
          159 E Monroe St, Chicago, IL 60603

          XOCO
          449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

          Sable Kitchen & Bar
          505 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60654

          2 Replies
          1. re: Siun

            I second Big Star. Fantastic. And I think the Bucktown/ Wicker Park neighborhood is a great recommendation for what the original poster asked for. Just hop on the Blue Line! The river tours are great too.

            Another way to really help with budgeting--so many good BYOB spots, if you are drinkers this can really help save $. Some BYOBs I like are Coast or Butterfly for sushi/Asian, Tango Sur for grilled meat, Glenn's Diner for seafood, Havana Libre for Cuban, and Mado for trendy small plates.

            -----
            Tango Sur
            3763 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

            Mado Restaurant
            1647 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

            Glenn's Diner
            1820 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

            1. re: kellyinchi

              >> and Mado for trendy small plates.

              Mado has closed.

          2. I imagine you will get lots of advice on fine dining so here is some on budget dining (and lunching) for a young couple visiting the city. 1) Mag Mile area is expensive. One reasonable place there to keep in mind is Big Bowl, Ohio two doors west of Rush, Pan-Asian, run by the great Lettuce Entertain You outfit. Another bargain is Northwestern Memorial Hospital (St Clair-Fairbanks-Erie-Huron entire block, one block east of Michigan right behind Apple), 2nd floor, Allspice Cafeteria. Not so good in evening but decent for lunch (has chef stations), low prices. 2) Get out of downtown. For Indian/Pakistani take Red Line (Chicago & State) direction Howard, get off at Loyola (20 min) and take 155 Devon bus to Devon & Western (10 min) then stroll westward (same direction bus was going) to find dozens and dozens of all-you-can-eat buffets for <$10. For Middle-Eastern and Swedish take Clark 22 bus from downtown, runs north on Dearborn, get off at Foster (30 min) and walk north. Middle-Eastern at Reza's (lunch buffet $10), Andies, Swedish at Svea, Ann Sather. 3) Gold Coast (a few blocks north of Mag Mile) also has Original Pancake House on Bellevue and Chicago Q on Dearborn, also the roast pork sandwiches at Butch McGuire's Bar on Division are legendary. For details of menu and price go to "chicago restaurant menus" which displays current menus of >3000 restaurants. Oh, one more lunch bargain, this one in the Loop---Oasis Cafe, Middle Eastern, located in a jewelry mall, daily special <$7, huge portions of good food. Menus website mentioned above has all details of address, hours, prices. Welcome to Chicago.

            -----
            Big Bowl
            60 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

            Svea Restaurant
            5236 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

            Lettuce Entertain You
            2171 Northbrook Ct, Northbrook, IL 60062

            Gold Coast Cafe
            1112 N State St, Chicago, IL 60610

            1 Reply
            1. re: Querencia

              I would suggest Tre Kronor on Foster for Swedish over Svea.

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              Tre Kronor
              3258 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

              Svea Restaurant
              5236 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

            2. Let me add, in aide of surviving in expensive downtown, that Water Tower Place Mall has a better-than-average food court on the mezzanine called FoodLife, not full of fast food franchises but all run by Lettuce Entertain You (that operates some of Chicago's top restaurants). Asian, Barbecue, Italian, Comfort Food, Soups, Salads,Crepes etc, reasonable, tasty, popular, fills a need. See Lettuce Entertain You's website for FoodLife details.

              -----
              Lettuce Entertain You
              2171 Northbrook Ct, Northbrook, IL 60062

              1 Reply
              1. re: Querencia

                Good suggestion. I also like Bandera for a downtown choice. Not ethnic or neighborhood-y but good food and atmosphere at a good price and local.

                -----
                Bandera Restaurant
                535 N Michigan Ave Ste 208, Chicago, IL 60611